Ravenloft: The Shadow Fallen
The Balinok Mountains
The Balinok Mountains Cluster is the oldest region of Ravenloft, a place of ancient history and primeval terrors. Some scholars believe that Barovia might well have been the very first domain to be drawn into the Realm of Terror, and its ruler—Count Strahd von Zarovich—to be the first of the damned souls to be known as darklords.
As might be gathered from the name, this Cluster is a place of harsh, forbidding mountains, stony crags, and deep, dark crevasses. The domains are rural and insular, held in the grip of despots and tyrants who care nothing for the suffering of their people.
The nation of Barovia straddles the central peaks of the mountain chain, which runs like a craggy spine from north to south. The hills to either side of the mountain range are rugged and breed equally rugged people. The passes through the mountains are choked with snow and ice six months of the year, forcing most communities to be as self-sufficient as possible. The people of the Balinoks are as forbidding and insular as their homeland.
The narrow valleys that cut the slopes of the Balinoks widen to the east and west. Crystalline mountain streams transform into broad, mighty rivers that wind their way through the thickly forested dales. The Gundar, Luna, and Nharov Rivers travel west from the mountains, while the Ivlis and Saniset Rivers course east. The highest peaks of the Balinoks, Mount Baratok and Mount Ghakis, lie within Barovia.
The eastern Balinok Mountains hold many major Mistways, while the rivers of the western mountains wend their way into other clusters. This makes the region a surprisingly busy crossroads, though few merchants enjoy staying in the area very long. The attitude of the natives, the poor climate, and the general air of oppressive fear makes the Balinoks a place that no one lingers in if they can help it.
The two dominant human ethnic groups in the region are the Barovians and the Gundarakites. Both groups tend toward thick, stocky builds with broad shoulders and wide hips. Skin tones range from pale olive-tan to light brown. Dark hair and eyes are typical, the former ranging from light chestnut to nearly jet-black, the latter from pale hazel to deep brown. Men grow their hair to a medium length, generally to just above the shoulder. Women wear their hair long, with younger women frequently braiding their locks. Most men wear thick, drooping mustaches, though beards are only common among younger men.
Barovians and Gundarakites also dress in a similar manner. Men wear loose white shirts, embroidered sheepskin vests, and dark breeches. Women wear blouses and long skirts and cover their heads with kerchiefs. Barovian women favor black, grey, and dark brown colors and wear the kerchief only when married. Gundarakite women dress in muted, natural colors, favoring yellows, greens, and blues, and wear the kerchief only when unmarried.
Despite their physical similarities, Barovian-Gundarakite animosity runs deep. The frequent internal strife in Gundarak forces many refugees into neighboring nations, where they are often not wanted. Barovians particularly regard Gundarakites as “uninvited guests,” even though many ethnically Gundarakite villages have been loyal Barovian subjects for generations. Harassment and violence against Gundarakites is on the rise in recent years, and as local militias tighten control of Gundarakite movements and activities, the Gundarakites have begun to respond with sporadic resistance.
The much-smaller Thaani ethnicity—refugees who arrived in Barovia generations ago from a fallen domain—fare better. Their numbers are small and they make few waves. Even their language is gradually being lost as they intermarry with the natives and adopt more of their culture. Invidians are descendants of both Barovians and Gundarakites—as well as many other ethnicities—and seem to care little for the ethnic strife that has begun to seep into their neighbor.
The major language spoken in the region is Balok, the language of the Barovian majority. Both Barovians and Invidians speak Balok as their primary language, making it easier for them to communicate with one another than with Gundarakites, who speak Luktar. The few Thaani in the area speak their own language, but it has gradually been lost as fewer and fewer Thaani bother learning it.
The Balinok Mountains Cluster has a surprising number of Mistways leading to other lands, despite the relative isolation its interior villages suffer from. The eastern stretches of the domain have several major Mistways that lead to the Far Steppes, and the western portions of the Cluster bleed into the Civilized Crescent. Indeed, one of the major trade roads of the region, the Silver Road, is considered to start in Borca, cross Barovia, and end in Nova Vaasa.
The country of Invidia, in the south, has several waterways that are river connections to the Forest of Beasts. Most of them connect with Verbrek, though a few end in Valachan or Arkandale. Some say that there are northern Mistways that reach Darkon, but if they exist they are poorly known.